The least we must do

A Jim Bell & Common Sense Commentary – www.jimbell.com

It’s as simple as this, all of us, just doing what we do, are destroying our planet’s life- support system.

To be more correct, it’s not so much about what we are doing, but about how we now do it.

Just to survive, we need water and food. We also need clothing and shelter. Additionaly, we need energy to support contemporary lives.

The problem is that the way we now get energy, water and food and most everything else, is eroding the possibility of having a secure supply of energy, water and food and the things of modern life, in the future.

What should we do?

The answer is to develop ways to live and make livings that are life-support sustaining, ways that heal and nourish each other and our planet’s life-support system.

If we want to give our descendents the birthright of a happy, healthy, prosperous, and completely life-support sustaining future, this is the least we must do. But, how do we do it?

Step one – become renewable energy self-sufficient.

When a home, community, city, county, region, state or country controls its energy supply and price, it controls its economy, its ways of life, and most everything else -- no matter what happens to the price and supply of energy on global and national markets.

Because solar energy in its various forms is free and even delivered free, there is no cost for fuel to benefit from it. The technologies to save energy and produce what we can’t save do have a cost. But given that our inventors/developers are still getting better at saving energy and converting various forms of solar energy into electricity, the price of efficiency improvements and renewably generated electricity will continue to fall.

Every level of becoming renewable energy self-sufficient creates opportunities. In San Diego County, where I live, there is an abundance of direct sunlight. Additionally, the county has substantial wind, biomass, ocean current, wave and tidal energy from which electricity can be produced.

But, even if direct sunlight was its only resource, and assuming 40 kWh of electricity, natural gas and transportation fuels are consumed directly or indirectly per capita per day, San Diego County could become renewable energy self-sufficient by increasing energy use efficiency by 40% and covering 43% of its roofs and parking lots with 15% efficient PV panels.

Economically, becoming renewable energy self-sufficient will increase countywide economic activity by over $175 billion over a forty year implementation period and create over 1 million job-years of employment in the process.

What about cost?

Actually, becoming renewable energy self-sufficient will cost less than continuing our dependences on imported energy -- especially if we make the transformation with a little intelligence and grace.

Assuming an average cost of 10 cents per kWh over 40 years, making San Diego County renewable electricity self-sufficient alone would save the county $24 billion.* Since electricity makes up around 40% of the energy the average person uses per day, it follows that a renewably energy self-sufficient San Diego County would save around $60 billion over a 40 year transition period to renewable energy self-sufficiency. Additionally, the higher the cost that electricity rises above10 cent per kWh on the open market, the greater the County’s positive the cash-flow and resulting economic multiplier benefit will be.

Step two - become renewable water self-sufficient.

Water is essential to life. It is essential to the water rich lifestyle most people in the developed world already have and that people in the developing world would like to have.

Using San Diego County as an example, increasing the coverage of its roofs and parking lots with 15% efficient PV panels by another 5%, or from 43% to 48%, will allow it to become renewable energy and water self-sufficient. The addition electricity will power reverse osmosis (RO) pumps to force saltwater against membranes that let freshwater through, but block salt, other minerals and most pollutants.

Assuming the worst case scenario of zero rainfall and zero imported water, five percent coverage of San Diego County’s roofs and parking lots with 15% efficient PV panels would make enough electricity to produce 776,000 acre ft. of water each year. San Diego County now uses around 600,000 acre ft. of water each year. By installing PV panels over 8% of its roofs and parking lots, San Diego County could become a substantial water exporter.

Sea life will be protected from RO processing by extracting the saltwater to processed through sand filtration as in extracting saltwater from coastal wells and through sea bottom sand filtration. Wastewater or brine left over from the RO process will be evaporated in shallow open ponds so salt and other minerals left behind can be mined. If any RO wastewater is returned to the sea, it would have to be diluted by sand filtered salt water to be less than 20% saltier than is natural seawater. As a further precaution, it would be released into the ocean diffusely.

Step three – become renewable food self-sufficient.

With renewable energy and water self-sufficiency, comes the ability to be renewable food self-sufficient. It also allows for the growth of a great deal of the fiber and lumber.

To make this real, it is essential that we protect our agricultural soils from development and other misuse. Research indicates that we still have enough agricultural soil on our planet to feed everyone a nutritious diet of tasty sustainably grow food with lots of variety. With renewable energy powered RO, this is still true for San Diego County. Unfortunately, neither of these statements will be true for long, if we do not protect and preserve our best agricultural soils for life-support sustaining agriculture.

Step four – population

Make a personal choice to be the birth parent of no more than two children unless a child or children die before reproducing themselves. If accomplished worldwide, the world’s population would decline by 1% to ½% per year. A 1% decline per year would reduce the world’s population to 2.5 billion people in 100 years. This was the world’s population in the mid 1950s. With a population drop of ½% per year, this would happen in 200 years.

Step five – develop a Space Debris Detection and Defense System

We already have the technology to locate all earth orbit crossing space objects. We also have the technology to nudge such space objects large enough to cause serious life-support harm if they collide with us, into earth safe orbits. We can even capture such objects in moon and earth orbits for scientific study and mining.

To repeat, if we want to leave the birthright of a happy, healthy, prosperous life-supporting sustaining future to our young and future generations, these 5 steps are the minimum we must do, and the sooner the better.

We’ve come so far, so why blow it now. We know what to do. All we have to do is do it. If those living over the next 60 years or so, develop life-support sustaining economies and ways of life planet wide, there is little to stop us from colonizing space in our own galaxy and beyond.

If we don’t develop a supporting (symbiotic) relationship with our planet’s life-support system soon, we will follow the footsteps of the great civilizations of the past that utterly failed at the height of their greatest achievements. This is because they were based on the exploitation of others and the unsustainable use of the life-support system, upon which their civilizations rested.

* For details on this investment strategy, go to www.jimbell.com, click on “Green Papers”. Although this paper focuses on renewable electricity self-sufficiency in San Diego County, the investment strategies it develops can be used to become renewable energy self-sufficient for gaseous and liquid fuels as well. Additionally, this strategy can work almost anywhere on our planet, modified for climate, renewable energy sources available and other local conditions. With modifications, it will also work for becoming water and food self-sufficient as well.